WESTHOPE - Scheduling the state's second-ranked team for homecoming is always a risky decision. Big risk, big reward.
Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn learned that the hard way - early and often - Friday night in a 40-18 loss against unbeaten TGU.
The Titans (6-0) wasted little time putting W-N-G at a major deficit.
Just 91 seconds into the contest TGU senior tailback Kendal Green ran in from 29 yards for the first of his two rushing touchdowns.
Green picked off W-N-G quarterback Hunter Braaten and returned the tipped ball 72 yards for another score and a blow to the Sioux's momentum. Prior to the interception, W-N-G drove for more than six minutes into TGU territory.
The Sioux (4-2) committed three first-half turnovers - five in total - leading to TGU's next 18 points.
"The key to the game was how fast we started," TGU coach Scott Thorson said. "We had some big plays offensively right away in the first drive. And then a couple big defensive players, which were huge for us. The pick-six kind of ignited us."
On the Sioux's ensuing drive, TGU recovered a fumble at the W-N-G 10-yard line. TGU junior quarterback Eli Luna found junior tight end Colter Thorp for a TD pass on the next play to post a 20-0 lead.
Luna intercepted Braaten early in the second quarter and Green rumbled into the end zone for a 5-yard score less than a minute later. The Titans led by 26 at halftime.
W-N-G cut TGU's lead to 14 with 3:41 remaining in the third quarter on a pair of scoring plays by Braaten - a 58-yard strike to senior tight end Ethan Miller and a 3-yard run.
Luna, a first-team all-state selection last year, responded with a 10-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion two minutes later.
After Braaten and Luna each tossed interceptions and the Sioux turned the ball over on downs to begin the final frame, TGU extended its lead once again.
This time Luna connected with junior tight end Hunter Schell on a 65-yard bomb to quiet the home crowd.
With 6:38 left in the game, W-N-G wideout Dawson Dunham sustained a serious injury on the Sioux's kickoff return. The 5-foot-10, 145-pound freshman went down on impact around 8:55 p.m., left the field on a stretcher 40 minutes later and departed in an ambulance. W-N-G coach Tom Nesvold said Dunham could move his "all of his extremities" and that the "prognosis was pretty good when he left."
On the second play after play resumed, Braaten weaved back and forth five times, shedding four tacklers, and bolted in from 68 yards.
W-N-G recovered a Luna fumble and drove to the TGU 20, but the Titans stuffed Braaten on fourth-and-1 and then ran out the clock.
Despite the performances of Luna and Green, Nesvold said TGU's dominance on the front line dictated much of the game.
"They beat us up front," he said. "Their offensive and defensive line beat us up."
Ryan Holmgren covers high school sports and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgrenMDN.